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September, 2012 - Education - Site Home - MSDN Blogs
The Australian Education Blog
Ray Fleming's take on what's interesting in Education IT in Australia

September, 2012

  • Education

    Using the cloud in the public sector–the Windows Azure InfoKit


    Windows Azure INFOKIT - Public Sector

    My colleagues over in the US create and update a handy one slide summary of Windows Azure resources that are specifically designed for developers using the cloud in the public sector – either because they are in public sector organisations (including education ones) or for people developing apps for public sector customers. It's a great combination of access to tools, training and resources, plus a batch of bonus information on Open Data (although it links to the US Open Government Initiative in the PPT slide above, I've changed the link in the list below to add the Australia equivalents).

    Developer Tools for developers using the cloud in the public sector

    Learning and Training for developers using the cloud in the public sector

    Online Resources

    Open Data and Big Data resources and links

    If you are using the cloud in the public sector, and want to understand some of the technical reasons, or cost benefits, then the links above are great places to start – and provides some of the training and resources that you might need if it's new to you.

    Even I've managed to do it!

    To be absolutely honest with you, I thought this whole 'developing apps in the cloud' was a bit too geeky for me. It's a long time since I've been a serious developer. But even I managed it, and it took me less than half an hour to sign up for a free Azure account, and setup and deploy a WordPress blog to a virtual server in the cloud, and publish my first bit of content to it.

    I chose to create a WordPress website, but there are tons of different web services that can be deployed with a click. So you could create a Drupal, DotNetNuke, Joomla, mojoPortal, MediaWiki, phpBB, Umbraco etc site just as easily. Or a vanilla site you want to hand build from scratch. You can do the same thing here (and go here to learn How to create a website from the gallery)

  • Education

    Exciting Learning–Using Technology to Improve Education–free ebook


    My colleagues in the UK Education team, working with Ollie Bray, an educational leader from Scotland, have produced a brilliant ebook "Exciting Learning: Using Technology to Improve Education"

    imageThe new eBook aims to address the following:

    • Enhance the understanding of the benefits of ICT and technology across the curriculum including literacy, numeracy, technology, personal, social and health education
    • Provide practical information on how technology can be used to increase student motivation and enhance learning
    • Give teachers the confidence to use technology in class as a learning and teaching methodology that reaches across all subject areas and age groups
    • Reinforce the importance and place of ICT skills for productivity and the 21st century skills agenda
    • Encourage teachers to consider using games design and other technologies with students to help children become creators rather than consumers of content
    • Improve advice on how teachers and school leaders might tackle some of the common challenges encountered when trying to develop the use of technology in schools

    Ollie is a fabulously inspirational educator, and I have been lucky enough to hear Ollie leading professional development sessions and talk at conferences where teachers have been so excited to grab his ideas to take back to their classrooms, especially when he talks so passionately about games-based learning. So it's great that he's taken some time to put those ideas into this ebook, to share with a wider audience. (He's also shared much of his work on his website,

    Learn MoreDownload the ebook "Exciting Learning"

  • Education

    Top 5 factors which affect student retention in Higher Education


    I've been doing some work recently on student retention and student attrition in higher education. You might have seen me writing about a Tribal presentation on data sources for inputs on student retention business intelligence systems. That work has also included an analysis across a number of different studies into student retention in higher education, and what is clear is that there are some common factors to student retention, and causes for student attrition, that are used by every project that I've read.

    So based on six studies, which also contain a number of meta-studies, amplifying the sample, here's the top five factors affecting student retention.

    1. Academic performance at entry - in Australia, a student's ATAR score
    2. Socioeconomic background
    3. Ethnicity
    4. Gender
    5. Highest level of education achieved by the student's parents

    In each study, there are a mass of other characteristics – between a total of seven and 37 depending on the depth of the analysis, but these first five appear on the list for every study that I have read so far. Which means that with an effective combination of institutional business intelligence and CRM, you could forecast your student retention rates across different courses and faculty before the Academic year has even started, and start to improve it from the same point.

    The challenge of student retention in higher education is not significantly different to other industries, but at the moment it seems that we're further behind in applying systems to help manage and improve student attrition rates, and in identifying and clarifying ownership of the challenge in each institution.

  • Education

    Windows 8 Education Software in the Windows Store



    Most education customers already have licences to run Windows 8 (either through an existing academic subscription like EES, a School Agreement or a Campus Agreement; or through MSDN/DreamSpark), so if you've not given it a go yet, I'd recommend installing it on a spare laptop or desktop computer. That way you can have a play around with it, and also try out some of the new apps, in advance of the big launch day on 26th October.

    My personal Windows 8 education app favourites that I'm playing with at the moment are:

    Wikipedia Windows 8 app tile



    Windows Store link for Wikipedia
    It's the usual great content from Wikipedia, but with a smart new interface, and especially useful semantic zoom

    Physamajig Windows 8 app tile 



    Windows Store link for Physamajig
    A great teaching tool which really takes advantage of a touch screen

    Mind8 Windows 8 app tile 



    Windows Store link for Mind8
    Simple mind-mapping, which would really useful to help students prepare revision or for assignments

    Wordament Windows 8 app tile 



    Windows Store link for Wordament
    My favourite word game

    Periodic Table Windows 8 app tile 


    Periodic Table

    Windows Store link for the Periodic Table app
    This does exactly what it says in the name!

    How Stuff Works Windows 8 app tile 


    How Stuff Works

    Windows Store link for How Stuff Works app
    A great app for curious minds, which always takes me off in a completely new direction every time I load it


      I'm going to try and find some time to share some deeper reviews of the education apps (now, where is that extra 25th hour in the day?), but hopefully there's enough pointers here for you go off and experiment with the new Windows 8 education software.

    • Education

      Generation-e's cloud webinar for education


      Stuart Moore of Generation-eOne of our cloud partners in education, Generation-e, are running a webinar in October, looking at how you can use our free and paid Office 365 for education cloud services. It's going to be held on Thursday 18th October, at 1PM AEST. The presenter, Stuart Moore, is a seasoned cloud professional and his experience across both education and other public sector organisations, means he'll be able to provide a good overview of what and what isn't possible.

      Here's the details:


      imageLet us introduce you to the cloud

      Want to know what hundreds of schools in Australia are doing right now?

      They’re moving to the cloud. Why? Because they see the value in using technology to help achieve learning outcomes.

      To make it easy for schools to provide the best environment possible for students and staff, Microsoft offers a free cloud solution called Microsoft Office 365 for Education. As a baseline, the free subscription offers: 

      • Email, calendaring and web conferencing;
      • Online access to Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote;
      • Public websites and team intranets;
      • Guaranteed 99.9% uptime with 24x7 access;
      • Enterprise grade security including premium antivirus and configurable anti-spam filtering;
      • Live 24x7 IT level phone support.

      To allow schools to extend the use of the cloud beyond the free offering, for a few dollars per month per user, schools can access:

      • Unlimited email storage and archiving;
      • A full subscription to Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote;
      • A complete PBX replacement using Microsoft Lync.

      Join us for a 30 minute webinar as Microsoft cloud specialist Stuart Moore introduces you to Microsoft Office 365 for Education and shows you how Australian schools are using this free technology to:

      • Save around 20% of physical data storage and power costs;
      • Keep teachers, support staff, students and parents connected;
      • Assist with improving curriculum delivery to achieve learning outcomes.


      Find out more, and register, here

    • Education

      Microsoft Education Webinars coming up in the next three months


      My colleagues that work with schools are running a series of free webinars over the next three months:


      The Microsoft Education Webinar Series is now live! We will be hosting a monthly webinar where you can get the latest information on key topics for education.

      These webinars are designed for an IT audience and aim to showcase how our products can help you achieve the educational outcomes at your school.


      OneNote in Schools - 18th October from 1 - 2pm
      Join us as we show you how you can use Microsoft OneNote to revolutionise the teaching and learning experience and change the way your staff and students interact.


      Office 2013: Experience it Live - 15th November from 1 - 2pm
      We will be diving into Office 2013 and exploring all the new features and improvements in our productivity suite. Find out why you do not want to miss out on Office 2013.


      Tablets in Schools - 5th December from 1 - 2pm
      Everything your school needs to know about Windows 8 hardware. We will be looking at the emerging role tablets are playing in schools and we will highlight our recommended devices!

      Learn MoreYou can register for the webinars (or, if you can't make it, request copies of the recordings) by emailing Cooper Wearne.

    • Education

      Microsoft Office 365 in schools event in Melbourne


      Office 365 for educationOn Thursday 11th October, Paradyne are running a free morning workshop on Office 365 for education, at our offices in Melbourne. (For some background, you can read more about Paradyne's implementation of Office 365 for education at Woodleigh School in Victoria here)

      I'm pretty sure that there will be lots of useful information on practical steps to using Office 365 for education, as the host, Loryan Strant, literally wrote the book on implementing Office 365 (and if you can't make it to the event, you can always buy his book "Microsoft Office 365: Exchange Online Implementation and Migration" on Amazon).

      The event runs from 9-11, at our Freshwater Place offices, and it's free.

      If you're not sure exactly what's in the free version of Office 365 for education, then here's a couple of useful links:

      Learn MoreLearn more, and register for this free event, here

    • Education

      Improving student retention in higher education–the data sources


      Chris Ballard, of Tribal, is an 'Innovation Consultant' working on student administration and management systems, with a focus area on student retention modelling. Earlier this year, at the annual conference for their SITS:Vision student administration system, Chris co-presented with Paul Travill from the University of Wolverhampton on a research project being undertaken to see how they could be using learning analytics to improve student retention.

      There is similar work going on in the Australian higher education marketplace, and I've had a number of discussions with universities here about student attrition and the ways to reduce it – driven by the fact that on average one in five students are leaving their higher education courses before the end of the first year. The factors which affect student attrition are made up of two key areas:

      Chris & Paul's slides dig into these data, how to interpret them, and how to build a system which allows you to model and predict student attrition using them (which obviously leads to how to react to them). On Slide 8 there's a really simple diagram of the key data sources:

      Chris Ballard's slides on data sources for student attrition analysis

      If you've got an interest in student retention modelling, then I'd recommend taking a look at the full presentation slides from the SITS:Vision conference, on the Tribal Labs blog

    • Education

      Two things I’ll never have to say now I'm using the new Office


      Over on our Microsoft News site, there's a list of "10 Things You’ll Never Have to Say With the new Office". They are all good thoughts, but there are two that are particularly brilliant for me:

      Use Word to load and save PDFs

      And once you've got them open, you can edit and save them, or copy info etc. How many times have you wanted to just make a small change to a PDF file before you send it on to somebody? Or make comments on a PDF you've been asked to review. Bingo!



      Easily fill a spreadsheet column from an existing column

      There's a new feature in Excel 2013 called Flash Fill. And once you've used it, you will never want to go back to spreadsheet software that doesn't have it.


      It's going to save me hours of typing and formula. Here's how it works. It takes a look at what you're typing into a column, and then is able to predict what you're trying to do. So in the example below, it actually works out you're creating a column of people's names, from the contents of Column B. And so it fills the column for you.

      Flash Fill in Excel 2013

      Like the best software everywhere, this has two important characteristics:

      1. It's indistinguishable from magic Smile
      2. It made me smile when I first used it Open-mouthed smile

      Can you imagine how much time this is going to save teachers – how many times have you sat down with a spreadsheet with a list of full names and you've wanted to just have a column of initials? Or you've been given the name as surname-firstname, and you want it to be firstname-surname? Flash Fill can do it. This is simply a genius idea.

      And if you want to see some amazing examples, watch this YouTube video from an enthusiastic Excel user to see how it can be used to extract, combine, insert or reverse data. (And learn the magic of the CTRL-E key).

      Learn MoreSee the rest of the "10 Things You’ll Never Have to Say With the new Office"

      Or…try the new Office by downloading the free preview version

    • Education

      Office Web Apps–the new Office Web Apps Server


      Two years ago we introduced Office Web Apps – browser-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. They appeared in a number of places – for example, you could work directly with them in the cloud, using SkyDrive. And they also ran on SharePoint servers, so that you could be opening and editing documents directly in SharePoint, without having to download them to your machine first. And even without needing a copy of Office installed on your computer.

      Education users have started using them, and they helped create new ways of using, sharing and collaborating on Office documents. For example, a teacher could publish a homework assignment on SkyDrive, and students could edit it individually or collaboratively on their home computer – whether or not they had Office installed on their home computer. And it made it very easy to publish, review and share documents on the school SharePoint (great for working on policy documents and other internal documents).

      But there were some scenarios that it still didn't solve. For example, schools are typically very sensitive to putting information in the public cloud. So if IT blocked access to SkyDrive, then that stops teachers sharing files easily for students to access from home.

      Jumps on soapbox temporarily: I actually think IT are sometimes too sensitive. What's the real risk of putting a homework assignment worksheet in the cloud where users can even be asked to login to get it. In fact, what's wrong with just putting it on a publicly available website? Why do my children have to login to the school network to get their homework assignment, which they can't access from home? Can't it just be put on the website in a folder that anybody can access? Are teachers worried about other teachers borrowing their work? It doesn't contain any sensitive data or student names or anything other than a standard homework assignment.
      Oops, I'd better jump off my soapbox and return to where I was!

      The other scenario that it didn't cater for is where people want to access files that aren't stored on SharePoint. For example, if you're using a Learning Management System which isn't SharePoint integrated – like Moodle – then users have to download files to their local computer before they are able to open them.

      Office Web Apps Server becomes a standalone product

      I've just read news from the Office team that with the new version of Office, the Office Web Apps will now run on a standalone Office Web Apps Server, rather than being installed on each SharePoint server. For today's typical setups, it means that you don't need to upgrade lots of different servers every time there's a new release of Office Web Apps – instead you have a single configuration of Office Web Apps that you manage in one go (even if it's physically setup on a number of Office Web Apps Servers or virtual servers).

      Nick Simons, a Senior Program Manager for Office Web Apps, has written a fully detailed post Introducing Office Web Apps Server, explaining the technical changes that are going to happen, what's now possible, and how it simplifies the management of Office Web Apps.

      Office Web Apps Server in education

      Office Web Apps Server architectureReading it, it occurred to me that it is especially useful in education for a couple of scenarios (especially when you look at the labelling of the black box on the diagram to the right, from Nick's blog post, 'Open from URL'):

      • Even if you're not using cloud services (like Office 365 for education) and you haven't deployed SharePoint for all students, you could still provide access for your students to Office Web Apps for use with Lync or Exchange (for example, to allow them to open Office documents within the mail system).
      • If you're using a Learning Management System (LMS) that isn't linked to SharePoint, you could make some technical changes to allow your users to open documents directly in Office Web Apps from within your LMS. For example:
        • Wouldn't it be great to open a Word document directly from a Moodle course folder, in a web browser, without having to have Office installed on every machine (good for students on their home computer or even on their phone
        • How about students and teachers being able to do the same in the Victoria Ultranet?

      I know there will be a bunch of technical things to do to make this kind of thing possible, but the idea of having a separate Office Web Apps Server in the new Office makes it realistic – especially where people don't want to have anything stored in the cloud, or they want to glue together different technology to make life easier for students.

      Learn MoreRead the blog post from the Office team "Introducing Office Web Apps Server"

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